Jesus was a Pre-teen Too! Reflections on Tweenagers According to the Gospel of Mark

As printed in Sept/Oct 2008 issue of Canticle Magazine

One evening, my eleven year old refused to place his napkin on his lap. In the upscale restaurant, I explained in hushed, patient tones that it was the proper thing to do. Because I have always encouraged what I called independent thinking – my mother calls it talking back – he challenged me.

“What makes it so proper?”

“It’s the way everyone does it.”

Even as I responded, I predicted his answer: “I don’t have to do what everyone else does.”

These were my very own words instilled in him to ward off peer pressure and foster confidence – or rebellion as my mother would label it.

How could a belief so right turn out to be so wrong?

Like many parents today, I believe success is unalterably linked to personal strength and independence. Unlike my mother, I wanted my kids to challenge and question old thoughts and beliefs, and to not accept the status quo blindly. My parenting style paid off: my kids were unafraid to speak out or to be different.

I was ready to congratulate myself for raising the next Martin Luther King Jr. when my son entered his pre-teens, and proved instead that I had raised nothing more than a rude kid. From simple things like refusing to tuck in his shirt at my friend’s wedding to the more obvious things like not saying thank you or excuse me, he continued to embarrass me.

My failsafe explanation that “People will think you have bad manners” became lame, I knew, because (you guessed it) he wasn’t concerned about what people thought… What happened to the manners I had taught him, and why wasn’t he listening to me?

Maybe I should have taken my mother’s advice and stuck to the old parental response of “Because I said so…” Wouldn’t my kids be obedient, well-behaved little angels instead of independent, challenging little brats? Something had gone amiss in my careful parenting techniques, but what was it?

The following Sunday, we heard the Gospel reading of Jesus being found in the temple. My bruised “mommy ego” bridled under the seemingly insensitive response of the twelve year old to His mother’s legitimate worries. Was He talking back? Impossible!

It struck me that after Jesus answered their questions with such strength of purpose; he returned home with them and obeyed them. As I pondered this message, a revelation occurred to me and I discovered what I had missed in all my emphasis on personal strength and independence.

Like any pre-teen, Jesus was coming into His own. Fully aware of His mission and His Divine Nature, He could see no logical reason for His parents to fret about His whereabouts. He was God! But, he did recognize their anguish and confusion. Is that why He returned home and obeyed them thereafter? Not because He had to, but because they expected it of Him? Jesus, God Himself, had conformed to the ways of humanity out of love and consideration for his parents and the world they lived in.

After church, my son and I had a long talk about the gospel and how Christ, the greatest revolutionary, still learned at twelve to indulge those He loved with gentle conformity.

My son’s expression was intense with thought, not rebellion. “But how will I know when to go along and when not to?” he asked.

Ah! My freethinker grasped the challenge of Christian life: to be able to love with all our hearts without losing our ability to remain strong, righteous, and self defined. I answered, “It’s a lifelong struggle. For now though listen to your parents, for God’s sake. If God was humble enough to do it, so can you.”


Serena lives in California with her husband and their two children. Their poodle, Sparky, remains the most obedient, considerate member of their family.

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